This is Mad Mac and I'm interviewing Lanny Lathem - Director of Creative Services for FUN PUBLICATIONS which runs the G.I. Joe Collectors’ Club under license from Hasbro. Lanny has been around the Joe community for years. He was part of Joelanta for four years and was helping design Joe Con packaging even before he started working for FUN PUBLICATIONS fulltime. If you've ever been to either of those events and caught the Joe trivia contest “GI Don't Know”, then you probably saw Lanny. I first met him at the Orlando Joe con and let me say he is one of the nicest and helpful people you will ever meet. It seems no matter how busy he is while assisting with the Con he is never too busy to speak to the attendees. I asked Lanny to send me some background information to help you get to know who he is and here is what he sent me.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the sheer volume of information that Lanny provided, I've broken the text into two sections: Lanny Lathem: Declassified and The Interview. If you wish to jump to one particular section, just click the appropriate link: resume or interview.
--- Your Friendly Neighborhood Admin
Lanny Lathem: Declassified
"I have been employed by Fun Publications for just over 2 1/2 years. Before that, I worked in the commercial printing industry for over 20 years. I used to operate drum scanners doing color separations, and due to the color theory and digital image experience I gained, I eventually became a digital retoucher using proprietary systems that predated Photoshop. As Photoshop became more powerful, most retouching and color correction work switched over to that application. I got certification from Adobe as a Photoshop Expert back around 2001. At that point I began to crossover into graphic design. This was a natural progression as I had originally wanted to be a graphic artist in college. I ended up doing a little of everything from a graphic arts standpoint from there on out.
For several years before accepting a position at FUN PUBLICATIONS, I did graphics and design work for the FUN PUBLICATIONS on a freelance basis. I worked on several years’ worth of G.I. JOE Convention packages and G.I. JOE Club exclusives. I also did several tee shirt designs for the Joe Con during that time.
The first Joelanta show was in 2001 and my involvement that year was setting up a simple website and putting together graphics for promoting the show, but I wasn't an official 'partner'. I actually coined the name 'Joelanta' though, when I was doing the website and needed a name for the show. It was a play off of Atlanta's nickname - 'Hotlanta'. The name stuck. The second year, I was asked to come on board with an official status and continued in that role for three more years. During that time, I was VERY involved. I continued to meet the graphic needs of the show and took on much more responsibility for planning and organization. My wife also helped a lot and acted as my secretary handling most of the contact with dealers for the show.
After the second year, one of the original founders left and it became a partnership of me and Buddy Finethy. Later on, when I was hired by FUN PUBLICATIONS, I relinquished my role with Joelanta and looked forward to bringing something new to the national G.I. Joe scene.
The "GI Don't Know" game that we did at the G.I. Joe Con was Buddy's brainchild and I worked out the structure and pattern of the game. We did the game show as a trio (with Buddy as the announcer, myself as the host and Brian Becker doing sound) for several years at Joe Con. It was a lot of fun, but I felt hard pressed to do it at the Con after I became involved with the Club and Joe Con on a fulltime basis. There is so much to do in preparation for the Con, and so much to do during the Con, that it was difficult to put the game show together.
There's a new format for "G.I. Don't Know" planned for 2007, so we'll see how that works out, though I haven't really been asked to host. The new format pits teams from various online forums against each other in a head to head trivia competition that's sort of like a cross between Jeopardy and Family Feud. We'll have 'buzzers' and the questions on a big video projection screen for the first time!
My passion for G.I. Joe goes all the way back to the 60s when I got my first 12" G.I. Joe figure. I had seen the commercials for G.I. Joe on television and in the comics and HAD to have one! My parents bought me a figure called STONEY SMITH for Christmas that year. I think THEY ‘thought’ it was a G.I. JOE figure. Even at age 5, I wasn't fooled. Shortly after that, I got my first REAL G.I. JOE and G.I. JOE became my all time favorite toy as a kid. I kept three of my figures and a good many accessories packed away in my parent’s storage building until I retrieved them as an adult.
I think some folks think of me as a 12" G.I. JOE collector only and even though that IS my first love, in terms of action figures, I had 3 3/4" G.I. Joe figures from almost the beginning. I first heard about G.I. Joe making a comeback at a comic book convention in Atlanta around '81. There was a panel about the comic Marvel was going to do. I was acquainted with Bob McLeod, who was going to be the inker on the series and teased him a little about the project as I didn't see it to be as viable a comic concept as were the superhero books which comprised the vast bulk of comics in those days. He took time to explain the series to me and made quite a case for the concept. I remember when the first animated mini-series debuted on afternoon TV. It wasn't the G.I. JOE I grew up with, BUT it WAS G.I JOE and it was cool! It's really ironic that I had that conversation with Bob, as I now have the cover of G.I. JOE #1 on a poster (that was sent out with the membership kits in the early 80s) framed and hanging in my home. That poster eventually became one of the inspirations for the design of this year's convention set box art and design. What goes around really DOES comes around sometimes!
The first 3 3/4" figure I ever bought was Storm Shadow. I was just getting into martial arts, at that point, and I HAD to have the ninja figure. It was VERY hard to find, for some reason. I drove all over Atlanta looking for it and finally found one at a now defunct toy store at Lenox Square in Buckhead, which is in an upscale section of Atlanta.
When I began collecting 12" G.I. Joe in earnest around '91, I also got into 3 3/4" in a pretty big way as well. I did some customs around that time and even created a character for a contest a toy magazine held. I did a file card and the whole nine yards. I also did some early attempts at 12" versions of some of the iconic RAH characters such as Storm Shadow, Law and the Baroness.
So, to me, G.I. JOE is G.I. JOE in all his forms. I love it all and I attempt to bring that love to the work I do for the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club and Joe Con.
Another bit of irony goes back to when I was 5 or six and playing with G.I. JOE. As kids, I think we sometimes misinterpret things a lot and when I saw a G.I. JOE commercial comparing the 12" figure to a standard plastic green army man (on a B&W television) I thought there were new 'small G.I. JOE' figures coming out! I remember looking for them in the stores and even having a dream one night that I actually found one! The whole thing turned out to be oddly 'prophetic' when 3 3/4” G.I. Joe turned up in the toy aisles years later!
I have a pretty broad job description at Fun Publications that includes, print design and layout for the newsletter, web design, figure decos, package design, tee shirt design and figure conceptualization. I correspond with factories in China during the production of our figure designs (both 3 3/4" and 12"). I usually review samples from those factories with Brian Savage and indicate revisions that need to be made. I also do a good bit of photography and occasionally write a little as well. If it comes out of Fun Publications, there's a good chance it passed through my hands at some point.
It is very gratifying to work on G.I. JOE for a living, but it can also be quite challenging. A lot more goes into what we do for the Club and Joe Con than some people may realize. Like anyone's job, it is more complicated than it seems to folks who are in other fields. BUT, it is the BEST job I've ever had!
None of what I do would be at all possible without the great folks who supply us with ideas and tool selections as well as determining the sets we do each year. David Lane, Brian Mulholland, Terry Wheeler, Todd Pleasant, Dave Pisani, Barry Kay and a host of others are critical to the whole process. And of course, there’s Brian Savage who gave me this wonderful opportunity. Without these people, I wouldn't have the job I have. I am eternally in their debt. In addition to that, there are the Club members. Without them, we all couldn't do anything. It's the fans that make this hobby."